Let's look at two characters who are generally considered to be iredeemable:

The Diamond Authority (from Steven Universe): The extremely childish leaders of the race of spacefaring lesbian magical girl viruses, known as gems. They are responsible for the genocide of billions of organic life (for no good reason) and also had forced a lot of dead gems into a fate worse than death, aka: The Cluster.

At this point, the answer seemed simple: You can't be redeemed if you have killed roughly 6 million people because of bogus reasons, however...

Dolores Umbridge: Move aside, Voldemort, Harry Potter has a new and improved antagonist. No other character is hated with such unified and burning passion as her. She did bad stuff, but not a full-blown genocide.

So what quality do these examples share that ensure the reader is never going to empathize with them?

  • Possible duplicate of How to write a Complete Monster?
    – Secespitus
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:27
  • 4
    @Secespitus the suggested dupe doesn't answer why some characters are reviled even though by any measure they're not as horrid as other, less reviled characters in the same story - why Umbridge is more hated than Voldemort, for instance. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:38
  • 5
    Yeah, the questions have some overlap but I see them as getting at different aspect of the problem.
    – Cyn
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 22:34
  • It's an interesting question. To my understanding, what happened with the Diamond Authority was not universally well-received by the fan base. I was never a fan of the show, but I've looked at the plot and the ending seems a bit odd in that regard.
    – Liquid
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:01
  • I wrote an answer here that is very similar to what I would say to you. It's all about positioning the camera writing.stackexchange.com/questions/29869/…
    – Andrey
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 15:24

12 Answers 12


The trait that makes Dolores Umbridge, and other characters, repulsive, is sadism. Enjoying the suffering of others, enjoying causing pain - we find that unforgivable. A villain who hurts others due to some twisted perception of it being right and necessary - they can (theoretically) come to understand that their motivation was wrong. But for Umbridge, who simply enjoys making people suffer, to have a redemption arc - the very core of her personality, her defining trait, would have to be altered for her to even start on the path. Sadism is her defining trait, and to be "redeemed" she'd have to stop enjoying causing pain and start perceiving it as wrong. But because that's the character's defining trait, if she did that she's no longer be Dolores Umbridge.

Another element at play is "a million is a statistic". It's very hard for us to grasp large numbers of victims. We perceive tragedy much stronger when the victim is a character we knew and came to love. We are far less inclined to forgive then. Voldemort might have killed hundreds or thousands, but it all happens off-screen, to people we've never known. Umbridge, on the other hand, tortures characters right before our eyes. (Read more about this phenomenon on tvtropes). Note that Voldemort, while not particularly reviled by readers, is never presented as "redeemable". The trope is at play in much stronger form in Star Wars, which @FrancineDeGroodTaylor mentions: Darth Vader kills an entire planet of unnamed people, then saves one Luke Skywalker, and he's redeemed.

  • 3
    Excellent point! I think you're on to something. I've read stories where a character was "forced" to perform a rape or torture, and they were not considered nonredeemable. Sadism, by definition, cannot be forced (except maybe in the case of mind control. Maybe.) so it is always nonredeemable. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:14
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    If you include fanfics, there's thousands of them that redeem Voldy in some way, but Umbridge... I know of two. I wouldn't be surprised if voldy redemptions outnumber umbridge redemptions 100 to 1.
    – Gloweye
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 7:37
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    It's also worth noting that Lord Voldemort has class to his evil - it's not petty evil, and he treats even his greatest enemies with a level of respect (arguably, more respect than he treats his allies with!). Even during the Graveyard duel he insists on manners and formal etiquette. Plus, his publicly stated goals (to preserve wizarding society, and prevent it being brought crashing down by the muggleborn who want to change things without first understanding why they are they way they are) are - at the abstract level - understandable/sympathetic (even if his methods and extremes aren't) Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 7:59
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    Sadism as defining trait is surely difficult to redeem, but I'm quite sure it can be redirected. A lot vigilantes-type superheroes exhibit sadism (batman, the punisher) and it's often condoned, not to mention character who exhibit one or plus symptoms of the dark triad.
    – Liquid
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 12:56
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    Vader is an example of a character redeemable only in death. It would be hard to picture a scenario where he gets to have a happily-ever-after at the end of Jedi. Just imagine him with Luke and Leia at the next Life Day dinner table, just chatting it up like a normal family - it would be pretty weird. (Actually sounds like it'd be a fun Robot Chicken or College Humor sketch...) Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:21

No character is irredeemable. If professional wrestling teaches us nothing else it teaches us that any character can make a face turn just as any character can make a heel turn.

But authors don't really write that way. If an author intends to redeem a character, they lay the groundwork for that redemption from the beginning. (Everything in fiction is about set up.) If a bad character is to be redeemed, it is hinted that they have some redeemable feature, or that there is an external reason for their current bad behavior (an abusive childhood being the overwhelming favorite in this psychology-ridden world).

It is not a question of a character being redeemable or irredeemable, therefore, but of the character being set up for redemption or not set up for redemption. The degree of sinfulness does not matter. If a character is not set up for redemption, even minor sins will not be redeemed. If the character is set up for redemption, even the blackest of villainy will be redeemed in the end. If the author suggests either:

  • The evil character has a spark of goodness in them (they are kind to small animals)


  • Their evil behaviors is caused by the evil done to them (daddy would not let them keep small animals as pets)

then they are going to be redeemed in Act 3.

And if not, not.

  • 1
    Aren't we mixing the causes with the consequences? Sure, an (good) author can lay the groundwork for any character for a redemption arc, but that doesn't say much.
    – Liquid
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 12:59
  • 2
    @Liquid I think it says a lot. It says that readers like redemption stories and that no sin is unredeemable in the eyes of readers generally. (Individual readers may be unwilling to see particular sins redeemed, often because they have been a victim of them.) As to causes, it says that a writer causes a character to be redeemable or non redeemable, not by their sin, but by whether they leave open a path to redemption. When Jessica Rabbit says "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way", this is ironic. In fiction everyone is good or bad because they are drawn that way.
    – user16226
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:10
  • 1
    I see where you are coming from and you're certainly right; I'd rather take the approach of "what would make this character reedemable in real life, to real people".
    – Liquid
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:46
  • 1
    @Liquid The same things, I would think. Redeemable qualities or sympathetic history.
    – user16226
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:51
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    @Liquid there is a huge difference between real life redeemable and fiction redeemable. The main one probably being that real life has billions of people with billions of viewpoints while fiction has only one. The author decides which one (Direct victim? Bystander? Anything in between?)
    – SRMM
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 7:05

I think there are two dimensions to this.

The first is: what makes a real-world person irredeemable? A fictional character with the same traits will then, presumably, also be irredeemable. I think the already-provided answers by Galastel, Amadeus and Francine DeGrood Taylor do a great job of discussing this idea.

The second is: how does a character function, within the structure of a story, so that, in terms of storytelling mechanics, the character is irredeemable?

At the most basic level, redemption (after extensive evil) requires a deep, challenging character arc. If a character cannot be convincingly given such an arc, the character cannot, mechanically, be redeemed within the story. And that character will also feel irredeemable to the reader, because the reader cannot imagine a situation in which the character is (plausibly) redeemed.

So, for example, a two-dimensional/cardboard character will be irredeemable because redemption has, effectively, not been foreshadowed--we would need a more rounded character to believe that this is a real person, with flaws and failures and blind spots, who could, therefore, come to understand and regret her failures and, thereafter, change.

Also, a character we don't invest in, don't feel any empathy towards, will be (mechanically) irredeemable, because a redemption character arc takes us on an emotional journey that is impossible without us being significantly invested.

A different way to state this. Consider the values explored by the story. The first way to consider the question is about the character's values--the evil character's values are so perverse and despicable that, once they have been translated into actions, we will never forgive the character. The second way is to focus on our values: the irredeemable character cannot guide us on a journey towards a deeper understanding of our own values, whereas a character may be exceptionally evil and yet lead us on such a journey, and thereby, within the story, be redeemed (to some extent) in our mind*. A good example of this is American History X: we will never forgive what the protagonist did as a neonazi, but we are confronted by his humanity in a heart-wrenching way that challenges our way of categorising people.

Moving on to the Harry Potter examples. I think Umbridge is, simply, an excruciating read. All I want is for her to be the hell out of the story, to stop tormenting Harry and everybody else. Whereas Voldemort is, in the storytelling sense, awesome**: powerful, enigmatic and "fallen"--I want to know more about him, and I enjoy myself imagining his upcoming epic defeat, or, who knows, maybe a more complex resolution to the story (although it turns out Voldemort gets nothing like a redemption arc). Umbridge is, thus, further along the scale towards irredeemable because I, the reader, have no interest in seeing that character developed, I just want her defeated, whereas I do want Voldemort developed as a character.

* perhaps I should drop a reference to Aristotelian "katharsis" here--but my classical education is too many decades in the past for me to do so confidently...

** though, personally, I thought he kinda failed as a character late in the series (but maybe this was intentional: when we finally meet him, it turns out he isn't actually that capable at things other than evil magic)

  • 1
    "when we finally meet him, it turns out he isn't actually that capable at things other than evil magic)" I think that was intentional, as Dumbledore explicitly calls it out: he was so focused on conquest and overcoming death that he never cared to learn about other important powers. Look up "crippling overspecilization" on TVTropes. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 11:02
  • yeah, but that also makes him (at least, it made him, for me) much less scary--although that, too, may well have been intentional Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 11:10

In ordinary life, what makes a person "irredeemable" is a theological/philosophical question, to which people have many different and variant answers. But in fiction, what makes a character irredeemable is simply that the reader doesn't want to see them redeemed. The reader reaches a breaking point with the character, and is no longer interested in any outcomes for that character other than death, failure or punishment.

As the always-correct @MarkBaker has pointed out, you, the author are in control of the narrative, and there are many things you can do to make a villainous character more or less sympathetic. But I can't help but notice an important commonality about your two examples. They are both of characters who do evil with a sense of smug self-righteousness. They cause great harm, but remain convinced they are the avatars of all that is good and right. Such characters are irredeemable precisely because they do not think they have done anything wrong. The audience longs for the universe (or in this case, the author) to offer a harsh rebuke to their entire worldview.

So, if you want to create a character that you --and hopefully your readers --will respond to in the same way as your examples, make him or her a self-righteous, arrogant hypocrite.

  • 2
    "Reader doesn't want to see them redeemed" is an excellent point. Some readers will reject a book, sometimes with great vitriol, for redeeming or for failing to condemn a character whose actions they consider unforgivable. The author can do a lot to make the redemption of a character palatable to the reader or not, but the reader's experience outside the story also affects their willingness to forgive or to see a character forgiven.
    – user16226
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 13:57

Short answer: maybe nothing. Just because you "hate" two different characters doesn't mean you hate them for the same reason.

Empathizing with a character, or considering them nonredeemable, is an extremely personal decision. Many times it will have more to do with a reader's experiences and values than with the character's actions.

For most, rape is considered a nonredeemable. Sadism and torture, child molestation, all "non" for me.

Many times it is the character's attitude even more than the end result of their actions. I would consider an alien creature who destroys a plant full of humans quite redeemable, if only it could be brought to see humans as "people". If it destroys a planet full of its own kind, less so. And a human who destroys a planet, worse still.

But then we have Darth Vader. He was redeemed at the end.

Here's the pivotal question. Can you convince readers that the person or persons in question are capable of truly changing? If so, they can be redeemed, unless the reader finds the crime so personally offensive that even the idea of redemption for that person is unthinkable.

I don't think you can find a rule that will answer your question. Personally, I'd rely on critiquers who can tell you how they would answer "can this person be redeemed in your eyes?" and if not, what can you change in your story so that the crime is not so completely nonredeemable?

Reverse that to make a character nonredeemable. Is it bad enough, if not, what can I do to make it worse? If you get a wide enough sampling from different types of readers you can find your "sweet spot" for villainy.

Another aspect of this is how personal your are prepared to make it. Having your POV character hear about a guy who raped a child is one thing, watching it happen is another. And if it is the POV's child...

But it's a balancing act. If your POV's experience is too terrible, readers will not be able to tolerate it and will throw down the book. Again, it is very dependent on the personal experiences of the readers.

  • Was Vader really redeemed? Or did he do just enough good to be remembered as "that awful dude who killed younglings and the Emperor"? I don't think he was truly redeemed in the eyes of the people of that Galaxy, although I do think Anakin redeemed himself, as we see with the Force Ghost (in the revised re-releases...)
    – J Crosby
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 20:39
  • 2
    Well, personally, I wouldn't count Anakin and Vader as different people. To my way of thinking, if one was redeemed, they "both" were. Just because someone adopts a different name doesn't mean they get to leave their misdeeds behind. But that's the difficulty of trying to predict something as personalized as how a reader is going to emotionally react to your writing. Everyone has their own take on the story. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:02
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    The only reason I separated them is Obi-wan's explanation to Luke about how "Vader killed Anakin" and to illustrate how changes in a person, while they can be extreme, don't change the root of the person - in the end Anakin did what was right, like he had done racing pods, and when he helped Padme on Genosis, and countless other times. Trying to predict the future is difficult - especially with people's emotions, thoughts and that pesky "freewill".
    – J Crosby
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:13
  • 2
    @JCrosby Vader is supposed to be redeemed in the eyes of the audience. That's the story presented to us, though we might question it and disagree with it. I would also note that this redemption was written before the prequels which included Anakin killing children. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:16
  • 3
    Darth Vader was redeemed in death, which is a special case. It takes more to redeem a villain who's going to stay around.
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 0:11

There's an ambiguity in the OP's question which we need to consider first.

When we say a character is irredeemable, do we mean in and of themselves (without external reference), or to a neutral third party (such as a reader?), or to someone affected by their actions (another character)?

What does it mean, to describe someone as "redeemed"?

This is a truly "real world" question. A person commits murder or rape, they get 20 years in prison, they are deemed to have changed and get parole. They do in fact reform and never repeat. Society considers that they have "paid the price" and are fit to live in society again. But often the direct victims of their crime (and those connected to them) feel that nothing can atone - "My relative is dead, they aren't". It's commonplace in real world possible-redemption, so we'd expect it in literature and fiction too.

So we can't discuss whether irredeemable characters exist, until we decide what redeemed actually means.

That's really a question of philosophy and definitions. I'm going to take as my starting point, that the victims view may be unchangeable. That means if we listen to victims, typically very few villains would have potential to be redeemed, because you can't unkill or unmain people, undestroy lives, or wipe out past harm. In particular (important for fictional narrative), you cant say "do this and the victims will forgive you". Typically for very serious "rot in jail and burn in hell" type of cases it leaves nothing that the perpetrator can do to be redeemed in the eyes of those affected. If this were "redemption" then it's all down to what an affected third party feels, limited agency to redeem oneself if they dont agree.

So I'm going to start a different tack.

A character is redeemed, if they realise truly, that their past acts were wrong, and truly try to do good or make amends, as a result of that realisation -- for real, and not just because it doesn't matter to them any more what they do.

This seems to tick most boxes for our everyday fictional understanding. A person sacrifices themself for good, after realising their past deeds were evil. A person on their deathbed confesses and tries to set things right.

Generally we don't consider the scale of their wrongs, in that equation. The canonical fiction example of this is given in another answer, of Darth Vader - kill a few million, then save one Skywalker - and yet we dont really think about that. He repents in the end, and we apparently consider him redeemable. Not how real life would go, but how it is in fiction.

What that suggests is that no character is irredeemable.

And indeed, a fictional character can lead a terrible life and yet the author can choose that they repent in the end, or don't.

To make that plausible, the seeds for it, or the cause behind it, have to be sown earlier, but there is no specific way that has to be done at all.


Redemption requires something of the 'sinner': they must as the very least choose to seek redemption, and choose to commit to whatever that takes; I think that is true, whether you believe in redemption by the grace of some god or not. You have to want it enough, so to speak.

I don't think one can determine a priori that any person is irredeemable, although in some cases redemption does seem very unlikely, like eg. in the case of psychopaths.

  • 1
    In this regard it is worth noting that to redeem means to buy back (as you might redeem your guitar from the pawn shop). The core doctrine of Christianity is that we cannot redeem ourselves -- we don't have the coin to do it -- and therefore Christ had to pay the price of our redemption on the cross. But in human society, a transgressor against the mores of the tribe may buy back their welcome into society by some act of repayment. Often they are redeemed at a discount, since the tribe has an interest in maintaining membership and will welcome back the reformed sinner who shows willing.
    – user16226
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 13:54

The source of the intent.

Did the character turn to actions or goals that the reader finds unsavoury as a REACTION to something? Redeemable, and often used as a plot device.

Did the character do the same as an ACTION to further an intent that has always been there? Irredeemable, can at most be suppressed/tamed/foiled.

Alternatively, if you want your story to have a post-moral style:

Encourage the reader to view them through a sociopath protagonists' eyes. Show them as uncooperative victims that need to be conquered, or as obstacles to some end by their mere existence and/or agency.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE rackandboneman, glad to have you here. To learn more about us, check out our tour and help center.
    – Cyn
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 2:17

In my view what makes a character irredeemable is doing something that cannot ever be forgotten, that they cannot atone for even by sacrificing their own life.

But that also becomes a matter of opinion, some people are willing to forgive anything. Francine (answering earlier than me) brings up Darth Vader, redeemed in the end. But not for me: He killed a billion people by blowing up their planet, motivated by selfish gain (power). Men, women, children, infants. No heartfelt emotional transformation redeems Vader from that, it was a ending written by a sociopath.

If Hitler sincerely cried for how sorry he was being responsible for ~85 million deaths, he doesn't get redeemed either. Even if he could magically suffer every one of those deaths, it would not undo the suffering experienced by those people, it wouldn't redeem him, nothing would redeem him, short of traveling back in time and killing himself before he began.

I am quick to forgive things I know will be forgotten, that I know intellectually do not really matter, but I am not forgiving of permanent damage.

In my view, "evil" is defined as harming others for selfish gain, in which I include pleasure itself, so a person harming people because they are sadistic is evil, a person killing people for money is evil, a corporate executive that knowingly risks the lives of others in order to make a profit is evil. A politician that tortures people to make political points is evil.

Some selfish acts can be compensated, a person can make amends. Some terrible things are NOT done for selfish gain, but by accident or by circumstance: A soldier in a war kills the enemy, but not for personal gain, they believe they are protecting their fellow soldiers and citizens. If that is the case, the killing is not the soldier being evil. (But the people leading the war may be evil.)

Other evils cannot be compensated, ever. Deaths for selfish gain cannot be undone, some physical traumas will never be undone, some mental traumas cause the equivalent of death, the person will never be the same as they were. Consider a raped child, or adult man or woman for that matter.

Where one believes the line between the two exists is a matter of personal belief, religion and morals. For me personally, my belief system won't let me write a story of redemption for true evil. Somebody that caused a death out of a drunken mistake, perhaps -- they had no intent to cause harm. But not a CEO that hid the fact that carcinogens were found in their breakfast cereal because a recall would bankrupt them. No amount of heartfelt crying balances their scale.

Others might believe in forgiveness and think the CEO can make up for the children killed.

I Don't. Which is why it is a matter of opinion.

  • Interestingly, Angel's character in Buffy is all about redemption, having done countless evil acts. Murder, rape, torture - he's done it all. But it was off-screen, while the guilt, the soul-searching and the dogged attempts to redeem himself happen onscreen. So we root for him. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 22:00
  • @Galastel True. I admit I liked that show, so I guess I fell for it. I suspect the writers knew that if they made the evil too concrete it would cross a line. I guess there can also be a distinction between having a soul or not. Did Angel always have a soul? I can't remember...
    – Amadeus
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 22:40
  • Angel had a soul when introduced to us in the beginning of season 1, lost it midway through season 2 only to regain it in the season finale, lost it once more for a couple of episodes in season 4 of Angel. Before that, he's had a few centuries as a soulless monster, then got cursed with a soul and went straight away into "My God, what have I done?!" Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 23:24
  • Good Angel was always a whining wuss. Evil Angel was GREAT and had real acting.
    – Bae
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 4:25
  • @Galastel Well in that "Not Real Life" scenario, we could say it is whether the soul itself is redeemable, as opposed to the body. IRL I'd claim there is no distinction.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:47

Do you mean unredeemable, or utterly loathsome characters with no redeeming traits? Because with gradual character development and reveal of hidden depth, even a character like Joffrey or the ones you listed can be redeemed in the audience's eyes, see a fanfic like Purple Days.

The trick to making a character utterly loathsome - which I suspect may be actually what you mean - is to make it personal. They should hit the audience where it hurts, and go after the ones the audience sympathizes with. They should do things like slut-shame a person who was raped (the victim should be a character the audience was already familiar with and liked to really work). Remember that things like mass murder are on too big a scale for people to remember, a million is a statistic and all that jazz. A bully can be more loathsome than a mass murderer because that is personal, it is something an audience might know in real life and take personally

This is why John Wick's dog exists: to suck your heart in and get killed senselessly to tell you who to hate. It does not have to be sadistic, the crime can be indifferent, done as part of some bigger picture, like the Incubators in Madoka Magica or Cauldron in Worm; both have some grand reason for their actions and do not put much thought into those they step on. However, the villain needs to not regret their actions, they must hurt like someone steps on a bug and the reason should be too big-picture to be easily understandable. This is partly why Incubators are less often redeemed than Cauldron, because one is impressed on why Cauldron's goal is noble whereas the Incubators' goal is less fleshed-out and less relevant to the audience.

Another way to put it is that the action works best if it is either petty, callous for the greater good or self-righteous. It helps if the person doing the wrong cannot convince of anything wrong. For example, the Shadow Stalker in Worm, who is often viewed as having a "might makes right" mindset and is roughly speaking one of the most hated characters in the series, hated worse than the guy who does sex trafficking and the Neo-Nazis. The Neo-Nazis are hated worse than the guy who does sex trafficking because Nazis are better ingrained in people's consciousness as evil.

It is important to A) never let the character's actions turn into black comedy, as funny characters are not hated so much, and B) be cautious about giving characters any kind of sex appeal or anything that can be seen as belligerent sexual tension since that invites the shippers - see Draco from Harry Potter. If they have sex appeal, have them use it to hurt sympathetic characters in ways that enrage the audience, that said there is reason evil is ugly because it is easy to hate evil.

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE Brenden1k, glad to have you here. To learn more about us, check out our tour and help center.
    – Cyn
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 20:11

Short answer: The Writer

Long answer:

No character is beyond redemption in fiction, though some will be a much tougher sell to the audience than others, because some things are more easily forgiven.

While many redemption arcs are set up early and a careful reader, especially one who knows about writing techniques or is a writer himself will spot the tell-tale signs, that is not necessarily the case.

Look at Star Wars for example. Darth Vader and the Emperor both appear as ominous, dark and evil characters early on. What redeems Darth Vader is that he in the end turns against his own evil path and joins forces with his family (son). Family is a positive value in our culture, and without Luke the turn of Darth Vader would not have had the same redeeming quality. The Emperor, on the other hand, mocks and disrespects family and stays true to his course to the bitter end.

A character can be redeemed if he regrets and turns away from his path, and takes steps to compensate for and counter the evil he has done already.

What makes a character irredeemable would thus be an action that permanently sets him on the path of evil and eliminates any chance that he might still turn around. Since few things are entirely unchangeable in the world, it is up to the writer to convey that this decision is final and permanent, and once it is done, the character is beyond hope.

Of course, too many stories have played with that trope and then broken their own promise as a plot twist for many readers to be completely sold on it anymore. If the character is at all sympathetic, some readers will hope to the end that there will be surprise redemption twist.


Out of universe

Really, the only thing that makes a character irredeemable, is not wanting to be redeemed. Anyone who acknowledges their wrongdoing, and sincerely seek to make amends, can be redeemed. It may be a long, difficult path. There maybe people, both in and out of universe who don't believe, who don't forgive.

If Umbridge accepted that she was wrong about non-Humans, apologized, took her pen and wrote "Not all people are Human, not all Humans are people." ten thousand times, and then devoted the rest of her life to House Elf and Goblin rights, she could be said to be redeemed. But she would probably never do that, not even consider that what she did as wrong. Therefore, she is irredeemable.

In universe

In your story, that is a different matter. In the Dresden Files, breaking the laws of magic twists your soul. Do it once or twice, and you can turn back (if the Wardens don't kill you). Each additional use makes it harder to turn back, and eventually you reach the point where your mind and spirit are so far gone you can never come back.

Your own universe might have and absolute evil that cannot be redeemed because it is not in its nature. And anyone who makes a deal with that power may also be gone. Vampires might be irredeemable because they must feed on innocents, killing them, to survive. A vampire who seeks redemption will die, so there are no 'living' vampires that are not monsters.

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